Will Michael Brown's Stepfather Be Charged For Inciting A Riot? Legally, It's Entirely Possible

On the night of Monday, November 24, the family of slain Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown got what had to be, following the initial revelation of his death, some of the worst news of their lives. A St. Louis grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot the unarmed Brown six times, claiming he feared for his life after a confrontation with the 18-year-old. And on Tuesday, another member of the family got some further troubling news — police are investigating Michael Brown's stepfather for riot incitement on the night Wilson was cleared, and it's possible that charges will be filed against him.

The evidence in question is video footage that was captured of Brown's stepfather, Louis Head, standing up amongst a crowd of outraged onlookers following the grand jury announcement by prosecutor Bob McCulloch. Head audibly yelled "burn this motherf**ker down!" and "burn this bitch down!" What followed, of course, was a night that saw the worst levels of property damage since the beginning of the Ferguson protests, some of which were the result of arson. In simplest terms, that's what's being investigated — when Head yelled to "burn this bitch down," did he truly mean to incite that kind of action?

Make no mistake — if the authorities in Ferguson and St. Louis county actually do move to criminally charge Head with incitement, it'll be a footnote to this story which will stoke an immense amount of outrage and ill will. This is obviously not to say that it's a good idea to yell for a riled-up crowd to burn something down, but in context, what transpired seems pretty clear: an aggrieved stepfather, believing his son's killer had been exonerated by an unjust system, let loose a pretty understandable flood of rage, if an unfortunate one.

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson — hardly a popular man with the protesters these days — confirmed that charges were possible, to Fox News' Sean Hannity (naturally).

We are pursing those comments, and there is a lot of discussion going on about that right now. But I really can't get into that right now. ... We can't let all that happened in Ferguson and Dellwood and the community die. Everyone who is responsible for taking away people's property, their livelihoods, their jobs, their businesses -- every single one of them needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
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Again, that countless employees and business owners were victims of a night of arson and property damage is beyond dispute — in fact, donations have been flowing in lately to help some businesses get back on their feet. Jackson's language, however — the necessity to prosecute everyone who took away people's property, livelihoods, jobs, and businesses — strikes a pretty unfortunate tone in light of why all this tumult happened in the first place. Especially the part about "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," in light of what's been pretty thoroughly documented as a feeble grand jury non-prosecution of Wilson.

If Head is actually charged criminally for this — while I'm no great legal mind, it wouldn't be much shock if the law dictates he should be — will he be afforded the sort of generous prosecution that labors to present him as even-keeled and reasonable? This is the dilemma for the Ferguson police — any action against Head is going to seem wildly outrageous in the broader context of what's transpired there, and Jackson's law-and-order tough talk isn't going to change that reality.

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